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Group Asks Regis To Skip Card Give-Away Consumers Union Says Debit Cards Too Vulnerable To Fraud

Citing a risk of fraud, Consumers Union asked TV talk-show hosts Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford to reconsider their new promotion giving away a $5,000 MasterCard debit card.

The nationally syndicated show, “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee,” has been running a contest for several days in which the prize for identifying the title of a song is the debit card.

Unlike automated teller machine cards, the increasingly popular debit cards don’t require use of a personal identification number unless they’re being used in ATMs. Only the consumer’s signature is needed for a purchase, so that a checking account could be drained quickly if a card is stolen.

Several lawmakers - including Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, R-N.Y., chairman of the Senate Banking Committee - have proposed to limit consumers’ liability for lost or stolen debit cards at $50, which is the ceiling for credit cards.

“We don’t think you may be aware of some of the dangerous problems these unsecure debit cards are causing for consumers,” Gene Kimmelman, co-director of Consumers Union’s Washington office, said in a letter to Philbin and Gifford. Consumers Union is the publisher of Consumer Reports magazine. The letter was made public Monday.

Hope Hartman, a spokeswoman for the show, had no immediate comment on the consumer group’s request.

MasterCard and Visa USA Inc., which together account for nearly all U.S. debit cards, recently decided not to make card holders responsible for fraudulent transactions as long as they notify issuers within 24 hours when a card is lost or stolen. After 24 hours, liability is limited to $50.